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Birthday.

It is that they spend so much time in the sky that bluebirds have streaks of red across their chests; and it is that--except for the robbing of their houses--they came north for my birthday bringing the light of southern Texas with them. Every year I am able to do the mathematics and stand like another bird--outside my door--with one foot in and one foot out, half-looking for the first light and whisper one phrase or other--one or the other--and look for a streak of red and a flash of blue. If you asked me what I lived for I'd say it was for knowledge; I'd never say I was waiting to see the sun come up behind the willow; or I'd say I was living to see the bluebirds come east again; I'd never say I was waiting for justice, or I was waiting for vengeance and recovery; I'd say I was waiting to see the thumbnail moon at five o'clock in the evening, or I was waiting to see what shape it takes by morning or when it becomes an acorn moon. I'd never say the bluebird has disappeared from the east, the starling has driven him out; I'd never turn to the starling and the English sparrow and hate them for their stubbornness--how could I as a Jew?--I'd never say the pigeon is our greatest pest; how could I who came from New York City myself.? I'd say it's too late to go to Idaho and sight the distance to the pole; I'd say I'll never move now to southern Arizona--I'd let the forest come back to Pennsylvania. I am half-English when it comes to trees; I live for the past as much as the future--why should I lie? I am ruined by the past. I can trace my eyelids back to central Asia. It is when the thaw comes and the birds begin to swell with confusion and a few wild seeds take hold and the light explodes a little I lie down a second time, either to feel the sun or hear the house shake from the roar of engines at the end of my street, the train from North Dakota carrying sweeteners to Illinois, moving forward a single foot, then backwards another, one of those dreary mysteries, hours of shrieking and banging, endless coupling, the perfect noise to go with my birthday, grief and grinding enough, wisdom enough, some lily or other growing on the right of way, some brakeman still wearing a suit from Oshkosh, he and I singing a union song from 1920, some dead opossum singing something about a paw-paw tree, his hands over his eyes, some bluebird greased with corn oil and dreaming of New York. State singing songs about the ruins or about the exile, notes from southern Texas, notes from eastern Poland, drifting into the roundhouse, Lamentations of 1992, a soft slurring on her part, a tender rasping on mine, though both of us loving the smell of mud, I think, and both of us willing to snap some twigs, although for different reasons I think, and both of us loving light above all else, almost a craving that occupied our minds in late February and made us forget the darkness and the wobbling between two worlds that overwhelmed us only a month or two before. It has to be the oldest craving of all, the first mercy.
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Author:Stern, Gerald
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:571
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